PAWTUCKET â€” Immediately after the Tolman High girlsâ€™ squad had finished its routine at these New England Regional Competitive Cheerleading Championships, held as always at Lawrence (Mass.) High on Saturday afternoon, head coach Jessica MacLaughlinâ€™s crew seemed rather subdued.
At least thatâ€™s the way she viewed it.
â€śThe girls already seemed, like, deflated,â€ť she recalled. â€śThey thought there was no way they would place in the top five, that it was over and done with, and they had failed. They were just sitting there, waiting to see who had won.â€ť
At about 5:30 p.m., the meet director announced the final standings in the Division III (medium-sized school) category. When the Tigers learned they had been deemed the newest regional championship team, they â€“ in a word â€“ flipped.
â€śThey lost their minds,â€ť MacLaughlin, a former THS cheerleader and state titleist, giggled. â€śSome were crying, some were laughing, most were screaming. I mean, they had to call us up to the mat twice to accept our first-place plaque and medals.
â€śIt was pure chaos,â€ť she added. â€ś We received a ton of support from the other Rhode Island schools there, especially Cranston East, Warwick Vets, Rogers and Narragansett. Then again, they called us the champion just before they said Exeter/West Greenwich had won the D-IV title.
â€śEveryone was on their feet congratulating us; they gave us a standing ovation, which was amazing! It was totally unexpected. We went into the competition with no expectations. I told them that this would be their last competition of the season, so just to go out and have fun. I asked them to execute the best they could, and that there was no pressure, though Iâ€™m sure some girls felt it.
â€śTwo years ago, when we competed in the New England Regional, we finished fifth in our division, and that was a huge accomplishment. We really didnâ€™t know what to expect, as that was our first regional appearance. At the time, that was tremendous, plus Rhode Island as a state had never done that well there.â€ť
Thatâ€™s right: Tolman became the first Ocean State team ever to snag a New England crown, and the drama wasnâ€™t lost on the coach. Her Tigers recorded 183.75 points, nearly 20 better than St. Josephâ€™s of Connecticut. Not only that, but her crew had outscored the other 12 clubs in its category.
They had captured its fourth state Division II (medium-sized school) crown since 2010 back on March 15 with 86.88 points. In fact, between 2010-12, they had earned three straight before a lapse last winter.
In competitive cheerleading, each squad â€“ ranging in size from eight individuals to 20 â€“ must endure two minutes and 30 seconds of exhausting maneuvers and is judged by a panel of eight on everything.
â€śEverythingâ€ť includes partner stunting (flips, etc.); pyramids; tumbling; jumps; cheer fundamentals; overall performance, presentation and appeal; and voice, motion and dance techniques and presentation.
â€śThey moved to a mix of current pop music, like Katy Perry, Brittney Spears, Jennifer Lopez and ROAR,â€ť noted MacLaughlin, who graduated from Tolman in 2003. â€śI thought their energy level was the best it had been all season; there motions were super sharp and clean.
â€śI also thought their dance was the best of the day, which it always is,â€ť she continued. â€śThatâ€™s because I choreograph it, but the girls get to give their input as to how to make it better. I will say itâ€™s always unique, and I think thatâ€™s one of the reasons we won the whole thing.
â€śIâ€™ll also say I was shocked. With an eight-judge panel, you never know, and I had no idea what they thought of the routine. Of course, Iâ€™m biased; I loved it, but I didnâ€™t know how the judges would feel because I didnâ€™t see any of the other routines from the teams in our division.
â€śI guess the judges loved it, too.â€ť
Among those on the THS contingent were seniors Kelly Ogden, MacKenzie Plante, Ivelisse Avila, Caterina Estrela, Alex Aguiar, Meghan Maynard and Patty Santos; juniors Cristin Chiaverini, Allison Feather, Megan Klemanchuck, Kathryn Marchese, Alexia Wahl, Jaidyn Quinn and Samantha Aguiar; sophomore Raivon Reynolds; and freshmen Kelsey Pedro, Stephanie Dosthene, Jahayra Navarro, Justice Gaudreau and Alexus Xavier.